This November’s Culinary Institute of America (CIA) Conference is focused on street foods of the world. As one of the presenters representing Japanese cuisine, I have been researching Japanese street foods. One of the signature street food is the Takoyaki and I have stumbled on its fascinating history. Takoyaki is a mini pancake in the shape and size of golf ball. Crepe like batter (made from flour, egg and dashi, Japanese fish stock) is poured in depressions in the heavy cast iron skillet, and the “pancake” cooked until golden. The diameter of depression is about 1 3/4″ and number in a single skillet varies from around 9 to 12 or more.
Takoyaki is a savory pancake and, when you bite into the ball, you will find unexpected treasures inside tender dough!: a large cube of boiled octopus, bits of deep-fried yummy tempura batter, chopped tart and salty red pickled ginger and with or without chopped green onion and dried shrimp. The cooked Takoyaki balls are brushed with sweet and savory sauce (made from Worcestershire sauce, vegetable, fruit, oyster extract, sugar, shoyu, spices,…) and are boldly garnished with bright green aonori (freshwater aromatic seaweed flakes) and smoky katsuobushi (bonito fish flakes). Some Takoyaki even receives additional topping – mayonnaise squeezed from bottles.
Now, let’s go back to the history of Takoyaki. When I was in Amsterdam, Nethewrlands, I spotted a very similar street food, which is called Poffertjes (visit www.poffertjessalon.com for photo), sweet little pancakes. They cook Poffertjes using very similar cooking surface to the Takoyaki skillet. The batter is poured into depressions on the griddle and cooked until the bottom is golden. The pancakes are flipped over and cooked brown on both side. Unlike Takoyaki , Poffertjes do not have stuffing, so the pancakes are flatter than Takoyaki. The finished piled up Poffertjes pancakes are topped with a piece of butter and lavished with powdered sugar. It was a delightful snack. While eating Poffertjes, I amused myself thinking of possible historical connection between these two snacks – Takoyaki and Poffertjes. Did Dutch inbtroduce us this style of cooking? Dutch were one of the first foreigners allowed to stay in Japan. They were restricted to a tiny man-made island, called Dejima just 500 meters long connected by a short walking bridge to the city of Nagasaki. From the 17th century to the mid-19th century this was the only foreign enclave allowed in Japan. The country was closed to all other foreigners. First I Googled the history of Poffertjes and found that its history goes back to the 15th century. During this search I also found the existence of additional Poffertjes-like dish. It is …….(since the story is becoming longer, I will post the remaining part on my next blog).